Sunday, February 24
To summarize the weekend, I only need to began with the Tibetan Buddhism talk I attended on Friday night, setting the tone for a very deep weekend, to say the least. So, yesterday I participated in a half day of a workshop that continued the dialog that begun on Friday, followed by a lively and enjoyable dinner with the visiting Rinpoche. I only learned of the weekend retreat on Friday, and so I couldn’t make the time for the full 2-day (4 parts) sessions, so I was content with getting in at least one session.
I realized I wrote freely about the Rinpoche who led the Tibetan Buddhism talks here in Portland this weekend, and I neglected to define what a Rinpoche is, asserting that most readers are not necessarily plugged in. Rinpoche literally translates to “precious one”. It’s a title honoring incarnate lamas and eminent spiritual teachers, and is used at the end of the teacher’s name. The Rinpoche is considered a reincarnate of a great teacher.
So, I am in my infant stages of understanding Tibetan Buddhism, and I’m not altogether sure what’s drawing me in to it. I thought, very briefly, that perhaps I would have a calling to become a Pema, or a nun. Which, I know is not my dharma, or path to enlightenment. I then thought perhaps I would end up adopting a daughter from Tibet – I have this intense pull to go there. I don’t know why. I have never been one to seek things out – love, religion – to make myself feel whole, complete or happy. I have been one of the lucky ones who happens to simply find happiness from within. I am content with my faith as a Catholic. I do admit there are things that I don’t agree with the Catholic Church, when it comes to the order and politics of the Church, but I like ritual, I like the ceremony, and I feel really good after attending an uplifting Mass.
I am not a theologian so I will not even begin to try to speak or, in this case, write as an expert on religion. I am a humble, spiritual human being trying to feel closer to God, trying to find enlightenment, contentment, and compassion. My work here on earth is to understand my gifts and how I am to use them to help make this world a better place. That’s really what we must all do, but, unfortunately, most will not take the time to search for their purpose. Western culture, especially American, more or less puts people in social paths already formed and people seem to just go along with this – whether it’s in following corporate America, traditional occupations, and traditional roles. I’m not knocking these roles. But, I wonder how different the world would be if we didn’t all succumb to what’s expected of us and, instead, meditate and pray to find out what our purspose is. Acting out the many roles we have as human beings is not the same thing as finding our primary purpose in life. For example, I could attain the roles of wife, mother, girl scout troop leader, Sunday school teacher, and so on. But my purpose is something altoghter different. It is sacred. It has everything to do with my very specific God-given talents, understanding that God created me as a unique, special human being, with the intention for me to use those unique, special gifts and talents to make the world a better place. We all have the capacity to do this because we were all born with specific gifts and talents that God wants us to use. And this isn’t a religion-specific notion.
Anyway, so much of my time is spent contemplating, pondering, praying, meditating – and really, I learned my purpose a long time ago. Which is the good news! That’s cracking half the code. Now, I must figure out the path I am to take toward being useful, toward making a difference. Clearly, I am searching for ways to make my writing tangible, uplifting, and useful. I hope that others read what I write and feel something – moreso, I hope that what I write can help people and bring positive energy, positive thought and, as a result, positive action in others’ lives – that it regenerates positive energy, that it continues to promote peace, enlightenment and compassion, constantly paying it forward.
I think Tibetan Buddhism practice is helping me to realize my purpose and find ways to best express myself, understand what it is I am to share with others, and truly live and share a compassionate, peaceful, enlightened life. That sounds all lovely, but it is hard work.
At the moment, I am making connections with my religious faith, Catholocism, and my spiritual path toward dharma, and I really feel like there’s a golden confluence of Catholocism and Tibetan Buddhism, or simply Buddhism, in a spiritual sense. For one, by observing practices, both faiths share a common use of incense; candles; malas (prayer beads used in meditation and prayer in Buddhism) and rosary beads (prayer beads used in Catholic devotions); mystics; ritual and ceremony. Both religions have a hierarchical system of spiritual orders (monks/priests/nuns). More often, Catholicism is related to Zen Buddhism, but more and more Tibetan Buddhism is compared. This makes me think of trappist monks…
Anway, the topic has been addressed, see Zen Buddhism & Catholocism by Anthony E. Clark and Carl E. Olson.
I learned that Ippolito Desideri was a pioneer in the Tibetan Buddhism-Christian dialog back in the 1700′s. Desideri was an Italian Jesuit priest and a scholar of the Tibetan language and missionary. So Catholics and Tibetan Buddhists had been engaged in philosophical and theological conversations since the 18th Century.
I am curious if it’s possible to be both a devout Catholic and a Tibetan Buddhist? Is religion so closed and tightly administered that there’s no possibility to open one’s heart, mind and soul beyond one thought? Here is my conundrum. I love being Catholic. I love my faith. I don’t want to feel like I’m betraying it or turning my back on Christ and, my favorite, the Madonna, by learning new concepts that are actually helping me to feel closer to God, to humanity. I don’t see how this could possibly be a bad thing. I didn’t address it with Rinpoche on Saturday evening, though I wanted to. It didn’t seem appropriate for me to take up his time with my personal questions. And, equally, I’d love to chat with my cousin Vincent, a Dominican priest in New York City. I really want to understand how these two theologies and practices can co-exist in my life without me feeling like I have to drop one for the other.
Either way, I am on to some great revelation, some greater understanding of why I am here and how I will be able to be more useful. I am content with that, I feel light in knowing things will all just work out.
I considered my brief conversation with Rinpoche at dinner last night. I was curious about the role of Pema (Buddhist nun) and I had been reading a bit of Pema Chodron’s writings. Because I am a writer, I thought maybe there’s a calling here that I am to find (plus, as I’m getting older, I’m not so sure the role of wife is in the cards, I’m not convinced I want to be a wife, so could that mean nun??). He shook his head in opposition. He flat out said, no. So that was that. And he explained in his broken English that I first needed to learn how to meditate, that it takes great discipline to get into the practice of meditating 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours at night. Which, is true. It’s still a challenge for me to get through 15 minutes! And this isn’t just close your eyes and relax meditation – this is complete blank, empty space – no thoughts, no voices in your head, no distraction – just blank. Not easy. He was blunt, he said it wasn’t my path. If any one would know if being a Pema is on my path, this man would know – he’s a reincarnate! But he said he’d be happy to talk to me and help me find my way to learning, understanding and practicing tantra to get to a place of enlightenment, compassion and peace.
Clearly, I’m not there yet. But, I think I’m on the right path…
So, rather than go to the second day of Tibetan Buddhism teachings today, I went to my steady 11:00 Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Mass was about water and how important it is to Catholics, symbollic in baptism, holy water used in service and in a basin at the entrance of the church (for parishoners to dip into when giving the sign of the cross upon entering and exiting the church). The priest’s word reminded me of Buddhist teachings on nature. I closed my eyes during the many choruses gloriously sang by the choir and meditated. I looked at the beautiful stained glass windows while listening to the priest teach the parish to love one another, to live in peace. And while I was beginning to feel good about my faith again, it was time for communion. And I was disconnected once again.
About a month ago the priest there told me that I could not receive a gluten-free host at this church because it was their belief that there has to be some leavened wheat. I was denied the opportunity to practice the most sacred part of Mass – receiving communion, the symbollic body of Christ. It was like being excommunicated. Rules, rules, rules! As if God would deny his people, those of us with Celiac disease, a condition with no cure but to follow a strict, challenging gluten-free diet. I am saddened and discouraged by this parish’s neglect of a growing population of Catholics. It is as if we are not welcome to share in this symbollic ritual; but, we are welcome to suffer through the toxic ingestion of a regular host, or we can sip from the chalice of wine which, upon lip after lip of neighbors with who-knows-what kind of germs they’re leaving on the rim, could possibly make me sick anyway. Celiac is an autoimmune disease, so I am avoiding anything that might compromise my health.
We have such a long way to go with food allergy education. The church cannot allow this discrimination. This could possibly be the final straw that makes me turn my back on the Catholic Church. And here I made a capital campaign pledge of $100 to the Archdiocese of Portland – the same Archdiocese that’s denying my participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion. I may have to write a letter…
So, tonight before I went to bed I burned some sandalwood incense, I turned down the lights, I lit four or five candles, I pulled out my Zafu meditation pillow and I meditated for fifteen minutes without a thought in my head, without voices, without lists of things to do, just a blank space. And it felt good.
Happy 40th Birthday to my big brother Mikey! Peace, love and light to you today and always…
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